Keisler removed from list of federal judge nominees

Bush drops Md. man, hopes to avoid discord

May 09, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Facing certain opposition from both Maryland senators, President Bush has decided to pull the name of Peter D. Keisler, a Washington-based lawyer who lives in Bethesda, from the first batch of nominations for federal judgeships that Bush is to announce today.

Keisler, 40, had emerged as Bush's top choice for a vacancy on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that was created by the death last year of a Baltimore judge.

He was one of three prospective judicial nominees who were dropped from the first group in hopes of assuring approval for the remaining 11 in the Senate, which is split 50-50 along party lines.

Also dropped from the list of nominees were Rep. Christopher Cox of California and Judge Carolyn Kuhl of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, whose potential nominations to a federal appellate court in California raised objections from the two Democratic senators who represent that state.

By contrast, the president has included on the list a candidate sure to win favor with the Democrats: Roger Gregory, who was appointed by President Clinton to a 4th Circuit seat in December, after the Senate adjourned for the year.

Clinton used a temporary recess appointment to name Gregory as the first black judge on the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which serves Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Clinton made his appointment after the Republican-led Senate refused to act on Gregory's nomination while it was in session.

White House officials said yesterday that Bush hoped to avoid further inflaming a heated dispute over how much power Democratic senators should have over judicial choices for courts that oversee their home states.

"The president wants to make this a cooperative, collegial process," said Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary.

"The president believes that he has every good reason to see these nominees received in a vein that is productive so that the confirmation process can quickly move forward."

Democratics, who have held up the confirmation of two nominees to senior Justice Department posts to protest what they called Republican efforts to shut them out of the judicial selection process, said they were pleased that Bush seemed to be getting their message.

"That would be a sign that the consultation with senators has done some good," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said of Bush's decision to at least delay the most contentious nominations.

Leahy said the White House was trying to arrange for home state senators to be present at the formal announcement today of the 11 nominees for federal appeals courts.

"I think that's a very positive thing," he said.

It isn't clear whether Bush is moving toward a resolution of the conflict over how to handle judicial nominations or postponing the dispute until later in his presidency.

The White House left open the possibility that the nominations of Keisler and the others dropped from today's list might be revived.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pledged Monday to protect the right of home state senators to be consulted by the White House on judicial nominations.

Democrats say that, for now, they will regard that pledge as a sign that Hatch will grant them the same power to block nominations that he accorded to Republican senators who objected to Clinton's judicial choices.

Bush appears to have crafted the list he will submit today to avoid putting that promise to a test and, perhaps, to buy time to overcome Senate objections to the other prospective nominees.

Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, both Democrats, said it would be all but impossible for Keisler, an actively conservative lawyer who served in the Reagan White House, to overcome their complaint that he should not be named to what they consider a Maryland vacancy because he has little connection to the state.

Keisler is not licensed to practice law in Maryland, the senators noted, and has never assumed a major role in civic or community activities in the state.

"If he joined the Maryland bar and became active in the state for five or six years, maybe we could talk," Mikulski said.

Sarbanes pleased

Sarbanes said he was pleased that the White House chose to at least delay the Keisler nomination but added, "I don't know how they could meet our objections. I'm looking for a record of service to the Maryland profession and the Maryland civic community."

In demanding to be heard in the judicial confirmation process, Democratics said they feared that the White House would try to pack the federal bench with conservative judges.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who had threatened to block the confirmation of Cox, said his voting record - on abortion, the environment and other issues - is so conservative that it places him outside the mainstream of American political thought.

Clerk for Bork

Keisler's career includes stints as a clerk for Robert H. Bork when Bork was a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington and for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. He has also been active in the conservative Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies.

The Maryland senators said they have never reached the point of considering Keisler's political views because he failed to meet their test of being an active Marylander.

In addition to Gregory, a second candidate expected to be named to one of the five vacancies on the 4th Circuit is Terrence Boyle, a district court judge in North Carolina and former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms. His nomination was blocked by Democrats during the administration of Bush's father.

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